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AI at the root of digitising Africa’s agriculture

By , ITWeb
Africa , 25 Apr 2022

Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to have a profound impact on Africa’s critical agriculture sector, with the technology being used for big data analytics and to empower those on the front line of agriculture produce trade, export and utilisation with key skill sets.

ITWeb recently reported that according to Junaid Kleinschmidt, head of AI and advanced analytics at Altron Systems Integration, an investment in AI can help South Africa better prepare for devastating weather events – with reference specially to the recent floods that have hit the Kwa-Zulu Natal province.

Kleinschmidt is quoted as saying: “Artificial intelligence has awarded us the technology that can, in 0.25 seconds, predict extreme weather. The technology is still in its early stages and is generally costly, but is something of a necessity that weather bureaus, meteorological research institutes, and both private and public sector organisations can unite to invest in, given that the cost of the disasters we are seeing far outweigh that of the technology.”

He says as an example, AI deployed and run on the correct GPU infrastructure can predict the behaviour of extreme weather events across the globe, days in advance.

Climate-smart solutions

In November 2021 a coalition of funders at the United Nations climate summit pledged US$575-million to deliver climate-smart solutions to farmers in low-income countries via the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), a global network of agricultural research partnerships.

Combined with the US$256-million recently pledged at the Global Citizen Live event, and other commitments from Sweden and Belgium, according to information supplied to the media, CGIAR secured US$863-million to confront what it describes as “a host of rapidly intensifying climate challenges that could upend the global fight against hunger and poverty.”

“This critical investment surge is a welcome down-payment for accelerating CGIAR’s climate adaptation efforts that already are providing millions of farmers with innovations like stress-tolerant crop varieties and new strategies to restore degraded lands,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Managing Director, Global Engagement and Innovation at CGIAR. 

“We have a deep understanding of the many ways climate change is affecting food production in fast growing regions like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and a commitment to building resilience through integrated, environmentally sustainable solutions that rebalance agriculture’s relationship with nature.”

In 2019 Microsoft, through its 4Afrika Initiative, announced a new collaboration with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to co-create technology solutions in agriculture.

The collaboration was announced at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) and will support AGRA's digital transformation as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries.

Microsoft and AGRA will explore uses of big data and artificial intelligence "in enabling data-driven, precision farming that increases farm productivity and profitability."

The partnership will also support farmers in adopting new technologies through digital training content, develop digital skills in agriculture through an internship programme, and support policy advocacy and government engagement around the design of national agriculture digitisation strategies.

Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika, said, "Agriculture is a priority sector of investment for us, not only because it sustains some 70 percent of livelihoods, but because we believe technology can significantly contribute to the transformation of the sector. Africa has a large number of farmers with varying farming practices. We believe technology can augment this knowledge to improve crop yields. Using Microsoft-enabled IOT technology, organisations like SunCulture have helped farmers increase crop yields by 300 percent, and increase income for farmers."

According to AGRA, the biggest hurdle to increasing farmer productivity in Africa today is the continued use of outdated production technologies and practices. Farmers are only likely to adopt new technologies when they are useful, affordable and available locally.

As a result, the Digitilisation of African Agriculture Report found that 90% of the market for digital services that support African smallholders remains untapped, and could be worth more than US$2.26-billion.

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